Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
David Foster Wallace grew up in Urbana, Illinois, the son of a philosophy professor and community college English teacher. He was a talented, competitive tennis player whose gifts for the game included oversweating in order to keep well ventilated and the ability to ascertain the differential complications between the angles of the court and the unpredictable midwestern winds that often seized balls while in play. Wallace majored in philosophy at Amherst College. His professors believed he would become an important philosopher, but after taking time off to drive a school bus, he completed his senior thesis as a creative piece, which would soon be picked up as a rough draft of his first novel, The Broom of the System. From there, he headed west for Arizona State University’s creative writing program.
The Broom of the System earned for Wallace a Whiting Writer’s Award and gained the twenty-five-year-old some cult and critical notoriety. The novel’s story line is built on phone messages, literary magazine submissions, and psychotherapy sessions. Readers come to realize that the central character’s search for her missing grandmother is actually a pursuit of her own identity. Wallace uses stylized wordplay to represent the notion that something’s value is nothing more or less than its function, a concept fostered by the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s idea that language is a means by which reality is constructed. His...
(The entire section is 1025 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Born in Ithaca, New York, in 1962, David Foster Wallace was raised in central Illinois, where his father was a philosophy professor at the University of Illinois in Urbana and his mother was a professor of English. Growing up among the geometric grids of rural Illinois farmland, Wallace developed an acute sense of angles, which, he argues in the essay “Derivative Sport in Tornado Alley,” enabled him to become a successful player on the competitive junior tennis tournament circuit between the ages of twelve and fifteen. Wallace attended his father’s alma mater, Amherst College, where he majored in both philosophy, specializing in math and logic, and English. At Amherst he became acquainted with his long-term friend Mark Costello, who would go on to become an attorney and also a novelist.
The anxiety attacks and problems with depression that first manifested in Wallace’s teens recurred while he was in college, and he was briefly hospitalized; after returning to school he wrote part of The Broom of the System for his senior thesis project before graduating summa cum laude in 1985. After graduation, he completed the novel and received an M.F.A. degree in 1987 from the University of Arizona. Wallace’s early success contributed toward some self-destructive experimentation in his personal life, which a few reviewers speculate might have provided some of the material on addiction that appears in Infinite Jest. He was briefly...
(The entire section is 362 words.)